More than a ghost of an idea

Peterites taken on ‘A Christmas Carol’
By Tahnee Hopman 

While Colombo hangs up its decorations and rushes around in mad pre- Christmas bustle, the cast of A Christmas Carol revisits the foggy Christmas Eve reminiscent of the staid Victorian society that was only just cottoning on to the idea of Christmas as a festive season. 

“The ghost of an idea,” mused Charles Dickens, “in a ghostly little book…which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.” And he was right. 

But for the Peterites directed by Jehan Bastians and Neidra Williams, the Christmas Carol story does not contain a mere ghost of an idea but many; and the production which will take the stage of the Lionel Wendt on December 17, 18 and 19, voices these ideas- of the influence of a person’s past on his future and the influence of the people on an individual’s life. Above all the focus seems to be on the idea that despite appearances, 21st century society is hardly different from that of the 19th century; and so Dickens’ ghostly little book is very much alive today. 

Coincidently, the book which has never in its lifespan been out of print, celebrates its 167th year on the closing night of this production.  As The Sunday Times ventures into a rehearsal, it encounters a decidedly Dickensian scene. The carolers are in full voice as children play on the street and an immensely relieved Bob Cratchit steps out of his dinghy office in eager anticipation of a rowdy game of Blind Man’s Bluff. A grumpy Scrooge withdraws into himself as he watches the merriment before him, and a gloomy Jacob Marley rattles his chains and awaits his entrance. 

Jehan and Neidra look on, and recall the process of taking the cast off an Elizabethan stage and on to a Victorian one.  “For 28 years,” they explain, “Peterites have been extremely active in dramatizing Shakespeare’s plays for the Inter School Competition, and this is to a certain extent a step out of their comfort zone.”

Seniors Lehan Thomas, Hirushan Maddumarachchi, Fabian Ananth and Avishka De Alwis agree. “Take away the competition factor,” they say, “and the whole atmosphere of the production changes. But the pressure is still there to make sure the production is of a high standard. At first we expected things to be a little easier than usual because the script was easier to understand. But we found that this made it as challenging as a Shakespeare script because there was a great deal of material to work with and many different perspectives which could be used.” 

These challenges do not seem to have in any way phased out the quirky cast who appear to have found many innovative ways to overcome them. Describing the group as a “limited edition” cast the seniors guffaw, recalling memorable incidents and anecdotes about each cast member; and the frequent bursts of laughter which would ensue when, during breaks the drama would be adapted in Sinhalese and to a Sri Lankan scenario. 

“The whole experience has given us a lot of confidence,” says Kanishka Herat who plays the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. “I have gained a lot of insight into my character; and why Scrooge is Scrooge. And I try as much as possible to channel that insight into my performance.”

“A great thing about acting in a production like this is the fact that there is so much to learn- even from the kids who have not had much experience on a stage,” reflects Roshni Gunaratne who will play the role of Fred’s wife, Kate.  

For others, the Christmas Carol experience has broadened their horizons in terms of drama. They agree that not being limited to a 30 minute excerpt or the rules set out by a competition, gives them a great deal of freedom to be creative. “That freedom is addictive,” smiles Anoj Wijeyaratne who plays the role of the young Ebenezer Scrooge. 

Fourteen year old Kavinda Samath Hettiarachchi who plays the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past adds, “it feels great to be able to explore a character and present different aspects of a well known character. I feel privileged to have been given such a demanding role and enjoy the experience of bringing something new to the character.” 

Right throughout this production, new perspectives continue to present themselves. “Everyone knows these characters by heart,” explains Gehan Blok who will play the role of the Ghost of Christmas present. “So we have taken a lot of trouble to keep things interesting by challenging the audience to look at the possibility of these characters being different from what they have seen or imagined.” 

In addition to new perspectives the production makes effective use of music which will be directed by Eshantha De Andrado with sounds handled by Neranjan De Silva, and choreography directed by Roshni Gunaratne. The production is handled by Miranga Ariyaratne.  Tickets for ‘A Christmas Carol’ priced at Rs. 1000, Rs.750, Rs.500 and Rs. 300 are available at the Lionel Wendt.   

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